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Film / Z

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"Any resemblance to real events, to persons living or dead, is not accidental. It is DELIBERATE."
— The opening crawl.

A 1969 Algerian–French political thriller based on the assassination of Greek politician Gregoris Lambrakis, directed by Costa-Gavras and starring Jean-Louis Trintignant and Yves Montand.

In an unnamed country (hinted to be Greece), an outspoken politician (named only as "the Deputy") is struck down after a peace rally and hospitalized. When he dies, a public prosecutor (Trintignant) is sent to look into his death and finds corruption, coverup, and much more.

Notable for being darkly humorous and satirical, but still having quite a chilling ending.


  • Arc Words: After the Deputy dies, this is what "Z" becomes, since it refers to a popular Greek slogan, "Zei", meaning "he lives."
  • The Bad Guys Are Cops: What the Public Prosecutor comes to realize during his investigation.
  • Batman Gambit: The Public Prosecutor accuses Vago, one of the perpetrators of the murder of the Deputy, of being a communist, knowing that he will likely reveal his right wing ties to refute the charges.
  • Big Bad: The unnamed General orders the Deputy's assassination and the coverup thereof.
  • Black Shirt:
  • Camp Gay: Vago. Of the "likes young boys" variety.
  • Car Fu: Done with a delivery cart which is used by Yago and Vago to escape after having struck the Deputy, and later a car, failing to assassinate the lawyer Manuel.
  • Cassandra Truth: The day of the murder a woman, Ilya Coste, anonymously reports a death threat against the Deputy, but it is too vague and the peace rally is not cancelled.
  • Cheated Death, Died Anyway: Manuel outruns some assassins who try to run him down late in the movie, but the epilogue mentions that the new regime throws him out a high window some time later.
  • Chest of Medals: When the officers involved in the conspiracy appears before the Public Prosecutor to be indicted each of them has a bigger chestful of medals than the previous one.
  • The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: The "incident" was clearly a drunken accident. That club-shaped wound on his head was from him hitting it on the curb. Despite being in the middle of the street.
  • Creator Cameo: Cinematographer Raoul Coutard plays the doctor who tells the Deputy's wife he's dead.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: During the demonstration/assassination scene, there's a close-up of the police holding their clubs at waist-level and wriggling them vigorously. No further comment needed?
  • Doomed Moral Victor: See Downer Ending below.
  • Downer Ending: And how! After the Public Prosecutor has arrested all the conspirators, the ending crawl says that the junta takes over, pardons everyone involved in the assassination, sends the activists to prison, key witnesses die in suspicious accidents, the prosecutor is removed from the case and the junta proceeds to ban nearly everything they don't like.
  • Establishing Character Moment: As the Public Prosecutor is having the case summarized to him by the General and his cronies with a list of charges given for the culprits that presuppose it to be a drunken accident, he points out that a charge of 'hit and run' should be added, showing his attention to detail, care for the law, and independent mind, all things that are going to wind up causing the General a great deal of trouble in the future.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Shown over and over by the CROC and future junta members, as they assume that every right-minded citizen will of course approve of their campaign of terror and assassination and are simply amazed that the Public Prosecutor does not agree.
  • Foregone Conclusion: It's based on an actual military coup.
  • General Ripper: The General's (No Name Given) opening speech reveals him to be obsessively anti-communist, and given to bizarre, florid statements and tortured metaphors. And everyone defers to his authority. Later scenes reveal he's also an anti-Semite. At the end, he reveals his involvement by using a strange phrase that's been popping up in talks with CROC members.
  • Hope Spot: The Public Prosecutor unravels the conspiracy, and the audience is treated to a montage of various military conspirators being charged with murder and sent to trial. Then the ending happens.
  • Insistent Terminology: The Public Prosecutor repeatedly corrects anyone who refers to the assassination as a murder, preferring to call it an "incident." When the Public Prosecutor switches to calling it a "murder", the indictments of military officers starts rolling in.
  • Intrepid Reporter: One of them helps provide the evidence that drives the investigation. He even provides the ending narration until the part where he gets arrested.
  • It Began with a Twist of Fate: The Intrepid Reporter only attends the rally (and thus winds up pursuing the story and aiding the investigation of the Deputy's murder) as a favor to the friend. He was originally hoping to do a story about a performance of the Bolshoi Ballet that was happening at the same time.
  • Long List: The ending crawl gives one for stuff the junta banned: peace movements, strikes, labor unions, long hair on men, The Beatles, other modern and popular music ("la musique populaire"), Sophocles, Leo Tolstoy, Aeschylus, writing that Socrates was homosexual, Eugène Ionesco, Jean-Paul Sartre, Anton Chekhov, Harold Pinter, Edward Albee, Mark Twain, Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoevsky, the bar association, sociology, international encyclopedias, free press, new math, and "the letter Z which in Ancient Greek means "he is alive"".
  • The Man Is Keeping Us Down
  • Miles Gloriosus: The military officers constantly boast of their courage and patriotism, and yet all they seem to do in the film is encourage thugs to beat up peaceful protesters, and plot assassinations of political opponents. When brought before the Public Prosecutor, several, including the General, declare if charged they will commit suicide rather than have their honor impugned. They do not, and in fact scurry away from the chamber afterwards trying to dodge the press.
  • A Nazi by Any Other Name: The military junta in the film that eventually takes over the country.
  • No Name Given: Almost everybody in the film. The public prosecutor is billed just as "Public Prosecutor."
  • One-Letter Title: "Z". It refers to the letter that the opponents to the military junta wrote on the walls to signal their dissent.
  • Our Lawyers Advised This Trope: Subverted with the opening crawl.
  • Paper-Thin Disguise: Vago puts on a pair of glasses to avoid being recognized.
  • Police Are Useless: Either by not protecting people against violence, or participating in cover-ups by lying, after being bribed or threatened.
  • Police Brutality: Several policemen, including their leaders, are members of the CROC and take part in the assassination.
  • Propaganda Machine: The General's opening speech describes how the government is indoctrinating the public, starting with youths in school.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: While the General and his cronies have undoubtedly "won" by the end, the pretense that the country is anything other than a military dictatorship has been destroyed, and the ridiculous and lengthy list of things they've banned strongly suggests that without any checks on their power whatsoever the same foolishness that lead to their horribly transparent assassination is going to ultimately lead the coup to disaster. Which it did.
  • Red Scare: The police's default assumption is that any dissident, whistleblower, or Intrepid Reporter is secretly a Communist.
  • Revealing Cover Up: The General's efforts to interfere with the case are so blatant and obvious that they wind up raising the Public Prosecutor's suspicions. Which leads to him discovering further amateurish efforts to cover-up the crime, all of them easily traced back to the General and his staff.
  • Ripped from the Headlines: The movie is based on the 1963 assassination of left-wing politician Gregoris Lambrakis, which played a part in destabilizing Greece and allowing the military coup of 1967. The main characters are very blatantly based on real persons: the Deputy is Lambrakis, the Magistrate is Christos Sartzetakis (who was twice arrested and tortured by the junta, and later served as President from 1985-1990), the General is arguably Georgios Papadopoulos, and so on.
    • The movie's composer, Mikis Theodorakis, was himself arrested, detained, sent into internal exile and interned in a concentration camp at Oropos while the movie was being filmed - his soundtrack had to be smuggled out of Greece. He was released to exile in France after a year, at the intervention of Radical Party leader Jean-Jacques Servan-Schreiber.
  • Roman à Clef: As previously mentioned, the story is that of Gregoris Lambrakis.
  • Running Gag: The military officers all vainly try to exit via a locked back door to escape the journalists after getting formally charged one after the other.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Manuel, who'd survived an earlier assassination attempt by the conspirators, is one of the few major characters who wasn't just arrested or exiled, but murdered, according to the epilogue.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: After all that trouble...things just go From Bad to Worse.
  • Self-Serving Memory: The police are amazingly calm and competent during the demonstration and "accident," if the general's testimony is to be believed.
  • The Sociopath: Vago. The man is all cheery grins while assaulting people without provocation, and has no qualms of engaging in outright murder. And he's a pedophile to boot.
  • Soundtrack Dissonance: An upbeat rock instrumental plays after the Deputy’s critical condition is disclosed.
  • Tap on the Head: Happens repeatedly, with realistic results in terms of concussion. The truncheon blow to the Deputy’s head results in fatal brain damage.
  • Teeth-Clenched Teamwork: The Public Prosecutor is a conservative who clearly doesn't like the Deputy's party when they happen to meet face to face, and whose initial thoughts when it seems increasingly likely that the Deputy's death is a murder is that it is the work of communists, either as a sympathy ploy or leftist squabbling. However, as the facts of the case become clearer (and the General's interference becomes more blatant), he winds up working with the Deputy's party to bring the conspiracy to light.
  • This Is a Work of Fiction: Memorably inverted with the opening faux-disclaimer. See the page quote above.
  • Token Good Cop: Most of the cops seen are allied with the right-wing thugs and help cover up their persecution and assassination of their political enemies with gusto, but one beat cop does a good job of investigating the case until his superiors threaten him into stopping. Even then, he eventually tells the Magistrate investigating the case what happened.
  • Turn Off the Camera: The journalist who tries to interview the Doctor’s widow ostensibly agrees not to take pictures of her, but keeps taking unaimed snapshots.
  • Wham Line: Whenever the witnesses say that the death of the Deputy was a "murder", the Public Prosecutor fastidiously corrects them pointing out that, unless otherwise proven, it must be presumed that the Deputy's death was the result of an "accident". Then, towards the end of the film, while he is interrogating a member of the conspiracy:
Public Prosecutor: "Then, I assume that the fact that you were on the scene of the murder was purely casual."
Stenographer: "Excuse me, Mr Prosecutor. Must I write «murder»? You have said «murder»."